Friday, September 14, 2012

Study Links Sleep Apnea to Increased Cancer Risk

A recent study, presented at the European Respiratory Society’s Annual Congress in Vienna, suggests that sleep apnea is linked to an increased risk of developing and dying from cancer. First, an overview of this condition: sleep apnea is a condition in which sleeping individuals experience abnormal pauses while breathing and the frequency of their breathing is abnormally low. Associating sleep apnea, an unpleasant sleeping condition, to an increased risk of developing cancer, not to mention dying from cancer, is surely the stuff of nightmares.

At the ERS Annual Congress experts presented two studies that provided substantial evidence in drawing an association between sleep apnea and cancer. The first study consisted of 5,600 patients from a total of seven sleep study facilities in Spain. In the study these medical experts utilized a hypoxaemia (which is the deficiency of oxygen in arterial blood) index in order to measure how severe sleep apnea was in each of the patients. The hypoxaemia index functions to record how long patients have had low oxygen levels (less than 90 percent oxygen saturation) in their blood while sleeping. Medical scientists discovered that individuals who had low oxygen levels in their blood during 14 percent of their sleeping, for instance 14 percent of an eight hour sleeping period, were 50 percent more likely of developing and dying from cancer. Of course, the patients who did not suffer from sleep apnea were not subject to these unfortunate odds. These medical experts also found a correlation between the sex of the patient and the likelihood of developing cancer. Male patients and young patients, in general, with sleep apnea are significantly more susceptible to developing life threatening cancer due to low levels of oxygen in arterial blood. Similar to the first study, the second study produced similar results. The evidence produced by the second study suggested that individuals with sleep apnea are more likely to develop cancer than those without the sleeping condition; the study suggested that there was a high prevalence of cancer in those with sleep apnea.

Now, the current focus of the study is to figure out the role of CPAP devices in the link between sleep apnea and cancer. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) treatment utilizes air pressure to keep a person’s airways open, making it an ideal method in treating patients with sleep apnea. CPAP treatment is often described as unpleasant since a patient must wear the mask over their nose and mouth while sleeping. The mask connects to a machine via tube which provides the patient with mild pressure air flow. Since CPAP uses air pressure to keep airways open, then patients ideally should not suffer from oxygen deficiency in their arterial blood. If there is no sign of oxygen deficiency in the patients’ arterial blood while they are sleeping, then the risk of developing life threatening cancer should be significantly reduced, if not avoided completely. CPAP treatment can be considered the light at the end of the tunnel for patients with sleep apnea.

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